So recently I’ve been getting into a lot of arguments over how and why promoting or pushing the lesser known or lower popularity members of an idol group is difficult or as some would like us to believe, impossible. I don’t agree with this so I’m going to be writing a series of articles on the topic, hopefully covering the pros and cons from both the management side and the entertainers’ side of things.
Let’s start this off with a look back in history.
Morning Musume – How did it all start?
Tsunku in the beginning didn’t set out to create an idol group. He was looking for a female lead vocalist for his rock band Sharan Q. The idea was to add new flavor to the band which he was lead singer of. Heike Michiyo won the audition and while I know not of her history with Sharan Q, the five runners-up were what later became Morning Musume.
Nakazawa Yuko, Abe Natsumi, Iida Kaori, Fukuda Asuka and Ishiguro Aya were brought in after Tsunku had the brilliant idea to create a girl group. This wasn’t that surprising as Tsunku had written many songs for Sharan Q and just a year later would go on to write some ground breaking singles, one being for Ayumi Hamasaki specifically.
So Tsunku used a method that he still employs today, he gave them the challenge that if they seriously wanted to be singers they needed to sell 50,000 copies of a demo song he would give them. So into the studio they went to record “Ai no Tane” and then off to the streets to drum up sales. This was not an easy challenge, they were given five days, 10,000 copies a day to sell. They successfully reached their goal in just four days, so the question becomes how?
How really isn’t all that hard to figure out. The Sharan Q auditions were held on the TV show Asayan, which was a variety talent search program. As I remember, Asayan also followed the promotional events that were held so I’m sure the TV coverage helped them reach their goal, and they sold exactly 50,000 copies on the 4th day. Most likely because that was all that they had produced. This officially started Morning Musume under Tsunku and the empire that would later become Hello!Project.
Their first official single “Morning Coffee” did well and Tsunku brought in Yasuda Kei, Yaguchi Mari and Ichii Sayaka. Around this point Tsunku began creating spin off groups, starting with Tanpopo featuring Yaguchi Mari, Iida Kaori, and Ishiguro Aya. At around the same time Fukuda Asuka graduated from Morning Musume. They went on to have several singles that sold well but continued to decline. This pushed Tsunku to hold another audition and I believe this one was televised as well. It was thought he would pick two members to join but in the end he picked what many believe was the key to Morning Musume’s success and added Goto Maki, the youngest member to join at age 13. Maki’s debut single “Love Machine” was also Ishiguro Aya’s graduation single.
I personally don’t think it was really all that much down to Goto Maki that the group took off. More thanks to “Love Machine” and the image the song gave to the Japanese people at the time. Whatever the case their popularity skyrocketed, leading them to mass popularity, media attention, their own TV and radio shows and eventually leading us to where we are today.
Without the boost from Goto Maki and “Love Machine”, Morning Musume and Hello!Project may not exist today. I’m pleased to say though that they have survived for a surprising 17 years and many people still enjoy them today.
AKB48 – “Idols you can meet”
AKB48 is the brain child of Akimoto Yasushi; lyricist, record producer, television writer, the guy even has a manga series to his name. He has worked with various artists including Jero, Onyanko Club, KinKi Kids and I’m sure that there are countless other things that I’m not aware of with his involvement too.
Aki-P obviously had a plan when he started auditions for AKB48. They already had a theater and cafe at least lined up if not already up and running. All of this before the first audition brought in the original 24 members. 20 of which formed Team A with Shinoda Mariko joining said team about half a year later after a special audition.
December 2005 saw them hold their first stage show, and debut with “Party Ga Hajimaru yo“. The event was attended by a whole seven (7) fans, and mostly media. This was an emotional performance for the members as they had spent months roaming the streets of Akibahara handing out fliers advertising the theater and the show. This is where a lot of the criticism about the newer generations not having to work as hard stemmed from. The original members put in just as much time practicing and learning the songs and stage as they did promoting the group outside the theater. That’s not really the case these days.
This is where things started picking up speed for the group, with a second audition in co-operation with telecommunications company NTT Docomo. The number of applicants nearly doubled with almost 12,000 girls applying, only 19 of which were eventually accepted. Team K would then be formed with 18 of the 19 members of the second generation.
Let’s put a timeline in place; first stage occurs December 2005, Mariko joins January 2006, February 2006 appears to be the month the second generation was accepted and February 2006 also saw “Sakura no Hanabiratachi” as their first indie release. March 2006 saw their first photobook released and their first graduation. April 2006 has Team K being announced, June 2006 has their 2nd single “Skirt, Hirari“, their first TV show appearance and their second graduation. August 2006 has them signing with DefStar Records, October 2006 has their first release under DefStar with “Aitakatta” and also the announcement of auditions for third generation and Team B. November 2006 they hold their first concerts at Nippon Seinenkan, December 2006 Team B is formed with 13 members and the first line-up change with Urano Kazumi, Hirajima Natsumi, and Watanabe Shiho moving to Team B as supporting members.
Well 2006 was certainly a jam-packed year, but now things start getting interesting. January 2007 saw the release of “Seifuku ga Jama o Suru“, and March saw the release of “Keibetsu Shiteita Aijo“, one having hints at enjo kosai, the other school bullying and suicides. Both of these singles were dark songs and ones that I don’t see performed anymore except for “Seifuku ga Jama o Suru” and even then that’s rarely. More often you’ll see “Skirt, Hirari” performed instead though.
While Seifuku and Keibetsu might have been dark songs they brought attention to the group and it saw their popularity slowly starting to increase. Then they started to move away from the darker sound with the release of “Bingo“, and their first appearance on Kouhaku Uta Gassen. We also started to see them a lot more on TV and radio, and their theater shows started getting more popular too. I’m not exactly sure when they put in the lottery system due to demand for the theater shows but I would estimate it was around this time.
2008 saw the beginning of AKBingo, the announcement of SKE48, and Matsui Jurina being the first SKE member to appear in an AKB senbatsu. There was some doubt at the time, at least from this writer as to how successful SKE could be. Of course at that point I wasn’t aware of how popular the theater shows had become. From my perspective I didn’t feel AKB was strong enough at this point to support expansion as they hadn’t really had a strong showing in the charts.
Several more singles went by including “Oogoe Diamond“, “10nen Zakura“, “Namida Suprise” and “Iiwake Maybe” which was the first senbatsu election single and certainly sparked media attention in the group. The single also had possibly one of the most popular b-sides in “Tobenai Agehachou“. All this before any really major spike in popularity. “River” was released in October 2009 and we started to see the beginning of AKB’s surge to the top. This is also the first appearance of the theater girls on a single.
“River” was AKB’s first #1 single, a support song, one with a message about never giving up and never looking back. “River” also had another b-side that I would says is possibly one of the best in “Kimi no Koto Suki Dakara“. “River” sold only 178,000 copies in its first week, but near every single after it until “Everyday Katyusha” increased in sales. The exception being “Chance no Junban“, the first Janken single which saw a rather sharp decrease in sales over previous single “Beginner“. “Everyday Katyusha” was AKB’s first, first week million seller. Though “Beginner” did eventually sell a million copies it didn’t do so in the first week.
The next few years saw more expansion with sister groups NMB48 and HKT48 being created to spread the 48 empire even further throughout Japan. The 48 brand even started to expand overseas with Indonesian group JKT48 and Chinese outfit SNH48 being created. All of this while still maintaining their million selling record.
This basically brings us up to where we are today with AKB and its sister groups. I didn’t really go into the sister groups that much but they’re not really the main focus of this series of articles anyway.
Momoiro Clover Z – A modern history
Momoiro Clover had a very rocky start, let’s just start this off listing some of the former members. Kashiwa Yukina a child actress and former member of Nogizaka46. Takai Tsukina left to join SKE48 and graduated a year later and Hayami Akari, former Blue and currently an actress and model.
Momoclo are a group that know hard work, they started out doing street lives in front of Yoyogi Park in 2008. 2009 saw their first indie single “Momoiro Punch” that was sold only at live events. To promote the single they went on a long tour from Hokkaido to Fukuoka touring the electronic store chain Yamada Denki. This tour was done by minibus and the members slept in the bus with the managers driving. It was in the middle of this tour that Ariyasu Momoka was added to the group.
In 2010 they signed a temporary contract with Universal Records and released their first major debut with “Ikuze! Kaito Shoujo” ranking #1 on the daily and #3 on the weekly charts. It wasn’t long after this that they moved to King Records and released “Pinky Jones“.
During all of this they were having tours and mini lives at HMV, Tower Records and Yamada Denki, leading up to their first solo live at Nihon Seinenkan which sold out in 30 minutes. Each successive tour then started ending at a bigger or more prestigious venue than the last.
It’s hard to say exactly where or when or how Momoclo skyrocketed to popularity so fast, they just seemed to rapidly gain fans for some reason. From the start of 2010 with their major debut to the end of 2011 at Saitama Super Arena, into 2012 with Seibu Dome and Budoukan, to being challenged to fill Nissan Stadium before aiming for the National Olympic Stadium.
I wish I could say I knew the formula that Momoclo used to reach their success, but success they have reached. All of this thanks to Stardust Promotion who took a chance with their first ever idol group Momoiro Clover and hit it out of the park.
I think this is a good point to stop at for right now. Make sure you check out the next article where I look at group promotion and pushes!